Fermanagh's Milk Cup Premier team manager John Quinn has been delighted with his side's preparations in the lead up to their opening fixture of this year's Milk Cup against Newcastle United on July 21.
Since the squad was finalised at the beginning of June the players and coaching staff have been working towards the big kick off in front of a home crowd at Ferney Park, and John has been impressed with their efforts. "It's been fairly intense over the last 8 or 10 weeks, but the boys are in good shape and have bought in to what we have been trying to do," he said. "We have been playing a number of preparation games and they have gone well. We have been training three or four times a week and been on a team building exercise for a couple of days, trekking over the Mournes and swimming about in rock pools. The fitness is looking good and I'm happy with how things have gone so far." To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the tournament some of the matches are moving away from their traditional North coast base, and John believes Fermanagh starting their campaign at Ferney Park will give his side an advantage. "It's a boost to be playing at home," he acknowledged. "In these tournaments you normally go up for the opening parade on the Sunday and it can be difficult to settle for the night with all the excitement, and maybe they don't get the best night's sleep before the first game the next day. With home advantage they are in their home environment on Friday night and Saturday morning and they have no travelling to do. Hopefully there will be a big local support and they know the pitch quite well, so yes, it is a big advantage." And rather than a vocal home support increasing the pressure on his team, John believes they will rise to the occasion. "There would be reasonable experience in the squad and I wouldn't expect them to freeze of be overawed by the whole thing," he said. "There are seven or eight at least that played in this tournament last year, and the majority of them have all played in the Milk Cup before. Some have played county minor football as well, so they will have played in front of big crowds before. There will always be an element of nerves, but that in itself is a good thing." All the young players will be harbouring dreams of impressing the watching scouts from the glamour clubs, but John admits it is hard to pick out one player who he expects to shine. "It's been my experience that sometimes people who you expect to do well sometimes don't, and there is always one or two who surprise you and come through and have a really good tournament," he said. "We are more of a team rather than outstanding individuals but Gareth Carruthers, our captain, is a good leader and will be a big influence at the back, Jonny Courtney can be very creative in midfield and up front we would be quite useful with Chrissy Nixon and Kevin Curran who are goal scorers. There is a young lad Jack Milligan who is a year young for the tournament but he has made it into the Northern Ireland under 17 squad recently so his confidence would be high and I would be looking for him to do well." Their first chance to impress will come against Premiership big guns Newcastle United, but their best chance of securing wins may come in the following two fixtures against Otago of New Zealand and their county rivals from Londonderry.
"Newcastle is a glamour game and if we get anything out of that at all we will be very happy, but we will certainly set our sights on getting something out of the other games," said John. "Otago lost all three games last year but they played three very good sides. Derry are a reasonably strong county side but it will be very much how we perform on the day. It's the third game and you could have picked up a few injuries or tiredness could be setting in so there are a lot of factors involved, but we would be in with a chance of taking something from the game. Those would be two games we would be targeting and we would be quietly confident of gaining something from them.